The news from Las Vegas is heart-breaking. At least 58 are dead, and more than 500 others wounded, after a man believed to be acting alone opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers from his room at a nearby hotel. It is reportedly the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
As the hours pass and law enforcement remains mostly mum about the details of the attack — other than saying, for now, there is no known connection between the shooter* and international terrorist organizations such as ISIS, which rather dubiously has claimed credit for the killings — some are tempted to proceed to the debate about what ought to be done in response. There’ll be a time for that debate, but not until we know what actually happened, and thus what specific changes might have prevented it.
Until then, a word about what we so often hear after such horrific things: that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.
This is a good and natural response. People of faith should seek comfort, for all those involved and for ourselves as a nation, in times of tragedy. Likewise, those who don’t adhere to a religious tradition are right to be mindful of the same. But we shouldn’t stop at the seeking of comfort.
We don’t know yet why that man in Las Vegas decided to kill dozens of people last night, and we may never know for certain, but it surely wasn’t out of love or compassion or goodwill. It is fair to assume, whatever the particular thoughts that passed through his mind, he was acting out of anger and hatred and malice.
And if there’s one thing we know about contemporary America, it’s that anger and hatred and malice are far too widespread.
We need not look too far back in the calendar. Think of Charlottesville. Think of the shooting at the GOP’s congressional baseball practice. Think of the bitter reactions to the NFL player protests, and of the reactions to the reactions.
Think of the daily dose of self-righteousness and disdain injected into your social media timelines, whether by you or by others.
If you are going to pray after Las Vegas, don’t pray only for the victims there; pray also for a stop to, and healing from, the fear and loathing spread all across this land. If you are going to keep the victims in your thoughts, be mindful as well of the small but fast-accumulating pile of petty hatred that poisons the society and people we call America.
We cannot eradicate those ills, which are part of our human nature. But we can choose to temper them, to better govern our words and deeds, to break out of the patterns that have brought us to this point, to reflect when we’re tempted to lash out. We can choose not to add to that pile, because it’s already too large.
*As is my custom, I’m not granting him even a bit of notoriety by naming him.